When you need to make a jig, the last thing you want to do is head to the local lumberyard, followed by making an online purchase, in order to have the necessary materials on hand. Grab the basics now, so you can get right to work later.
When it’s strength and durability you’re after, standard 1/2″ or 3/4″ plywood is a good choice. For more extreme situations, or for a jig that will see a lot of use, Baltic birch plywood is extremely strong and durable. Plywood isn’t the flattest sheet good, but that’s not always critical.
If flatness is your main concern, MDF might be the answer. Like any material, it has its downsides, though. MDF’s screw-holding capabilities and overall durability are both on the lower side.
Particleboard is generally cost effective, and in most shops it’s plentiful. And being fairly flat, fairly strong and fairly decent at holding a screw, it’s a good middle ground for most jigs. Melamine surfaces, which are often applied to particle board, are slippier than all other sheet goods, which may pose a challenge to keeping the workpiece stationary during a cut.
Many jigs don’t need any form of device to secure the workpiece, but that’s not always the case. Having a few different types of hold-down devices to use as needed makes jig use safer and more efficient. You’ll also come up with many uses for them when they’re not attached to a jig.
Some would consider this extravagant (I might agree), but don’t we master jig-makers deserve it? I would never add this to most of my jigs, but there are times when accurately and quickly knowing a distance is incredibly handy. Just machine a shallow groove, press in the tape once it’s positioned properly and enjoy.
Many jigs don’t need to get this serious, but if yours will get a lot of use or you need the maximum amount of flexibility, you could probably benefit from including T-track. The ability to quickly change the location of hold-downs or stops is a huge plus.
T-Track will quickly become useless without its partner in crime, the T-bolt. A T-bolt head fits into the slot on a T-track, a piece of wood can be drilled to accept the threaded shaft of the T-bolt, and allows you to tighten down a stop or other object, which leads me to…
In order to quickly and easily apply and remove pressure to a stop, workpiece, etc., a threaded knob is the last piece of the puzzle. The shape of the handle rarely matters, but the size of the thread sure does. When you’re purchasing all of these threaded jig parts, ensure they all have the same size of thread on them. I prefer 1/4-20, but a larger option is fine, too.
An item you don’t need to purchase specifically, quarter sawn solid wood changes dimension less than flat sawn material. Dense, quarter sawn material is great for making runners so jigs can slide back and forth in grooves on table saws, router tables and the like. If you come across a longer length of material that may be appropriate, just put it aside until you need it.
There are many products that make creating jigs easier. In fact, some are downright brilliant, and turn jig-making into an enjoyable process. An online search will likely shine the light on many items you never even knew were available.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.